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October 28, 2022

For one Maine college, it's easy being green

rendering of building Courtesy / Opal Architecture College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor was ranked the nation’s top green college for the seventh year running. Initiatives include a new, sustainable residence hall now under construction.

For the seventh year in a row, College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor is No. 1 on Princeton Review's list of Top 50 Green Colleges. 

The school’s green distinctions are many. Actions to reduce its footprint as part of a long-term strategy include phasing out single-use plastics; reducing, recycling and composting waste; transitioning to renewable sources; sourcing food sustainably; and using non-toxic cleaning products. 

Under construction now is a 12,000-square-foot dormitory designed to passive house principles, featuring airtight construction, a high-efficiency envelope, heat-recovery ventilation, mass-timber construction, wood-fiber insulation and a rooftop solar array.

Recent green initiatives include construction of a 30,000-square-foot academic center designed according to passive house principles, including site selection, solar orientation, use of local and recycled materials and onsite renewable energy.

Founded in 1969, College of the Atlantic, with a full-time enrollment of 366 students, awards bachelor’s and master’s degrees solely in the field of human ecology. The school became the first carbon-neutral college in the U.S. in 2007, and it has committed to becoming fossil fuel–free by 2030.

The school’s educational approach is designed to engage students in a comprehensive, experiential educational approach to all aspects of sustainability and eliminating reliance on fossil fuels, from food to energy, coursework and community, and a commitment to environmental and social justice.

The college is part of Sustainable MDI, a group of area businesses working together on similar measures.

The review released its 2023 Guide to Green Colleges this week. The 2023 Edition profiles 455 colleges and presents a ranking list of the Top 50 Green Colleges.

Colby College in Waterville ranked in No. 15 on the list. In April 2013, Colby also became one of the first colleges in the country to achieve carbon neutrality. It has also embraced policies and practices designed to respect the environment and promote sustainable living principles. Colby has achieved a net reduction of carbon emissions and implemented sustainability programs on campus and several innovative environmental initiatives throughout the organization.

The University of Maine ranked No. 34 for its environmentally responsible policies; sustainable and healthy quality of campus life; and its efforts to prepare them for careers in a modern clean-energy economy. 

In its profile for UMaine, the review highlighted the percentage of the university’s food budget spent on local and organic food — UMaine dining purchased more than 25% of its food and beverages from local vendors from July 1, 2021 to May 31, 2022. Other initiatives include its public greenhouse gas inventory plan; sustainably-focused academic offerings; free parking for carpoolers and free bus transportation.

The Princeton Review chose the schools for the guide and its ranking list based on data from the company’s surveys of administrators and students at 713 colleges during the 2021–22 academic year. 

"Since we debuted this project 13 years ago, we have seen an increasing interest among college applicants in attending colleges that are committed to the environment and to green practices," Rob Franek, the review’s editor in chief, said in a news release. 

Of the 10,400 college applicants participating in the review’s 2022 College Hopes & Worries Survey, 77% said information about a college's commitment to the environment would affect their decision to apply to or attend the school. 

“Over the years, we have also seen a significant growth in the number of colleges pivoting to sustainability-related policies and programs,” Franek added. 

As a group, the schools share a number of statistics with respect to their commitments to sustainability. 

Among the top 50 schools overall:

  • 16% of their total food purchases are from local sources and/or organic
  • 48% of their waste is diverted from incinerators or solid-waste landfills
  • 98% offer a sustainability-focused undergraduate major or degree
  • 100% have a sustainability officer

Of the 455 schools selected for the 2023 edition of the guide, 421 are in the U.S., 26 are in Canada, two are in Taiwan and one each is in Ecuador, Egypt, Greece, Ireland, Mexico and Morocco.

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